At Risk: Natural Hazards, People's Vulnerability, and Disasters

By Ben Wisner; Piers Blaikie et al. | Go to book overview

9

TOWARDS A SAFER ENVIRONMENT

'Towards a safer environment': are statements of intent merely hot air?

Before we review international efforts to reduce people's vulnerability and make some of our own suggestions, let us engage with some pessimistic views about their efficacy, some of them radical and others post-modern. The story runs something like this. Conferences and the airing of statements of concern, declarations, objectives and principles therein are simply a waste of time. They may stabilise the expectations of international bureaucrats in times of uncertainty, threatened guilt and blame but merely represent manoeuvrings in corridor politics far from the site and sight of death, destruction and destitution (Bellamy Foster 2003; Sachs et al. 2002). Disasters are discursively 'produced' by the well-paid and well-fed in rich countries who indulge in essentialising cultural discourses which denigrate large parts of the world as disease-ridden, poverty stricken and disaster prone (see an example of the deconstruction of famine by Bankoff 2001, mentioned in Chapter 1, and a critique similar to ours in Adams 2001; Broch-Due 2000; Leach and Mearns 1996; Hoben 1995).

The radical structuralist version of pessimism takes the view that conferences such as the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002 (reviewed in the next section) are nothing more than media events for which corporate sponsorship has already purchased the script, and global corporations have already determined what are to be framed as 'problems' or orchestrated as 'silences'. In short, 'he who pays the piper calls the tune' (Bellamy Foster 2003; Sachs et al. 2002). Disasters are, in any case, outcomes of global socio-economic forces ('root causes' and 'dynamic pressures' in the PAR model), and quite outside any transformation which any amount of hot air might offer.

Disasters are essentially historically and spatially specific outcomes of the process of contemporary capitalism. Unsafe practices are pursued by privatised public utilities unconcerned by what anyone might say at the conference table. Structural adjustment policies have been adopted without any consideration at all for their impact on increased vulnerability, and have

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